The season has made that sudden leap from high spring to high summer. The leaves on the trees become heavy and mid green. The fields and hedgerow look paler, heavy, full of ripening seeds. Spring babies become bold teens. Rabbits fatten even more delectably. Lithe and beautiful fox teens explore the world, try their hand at catching daft young rabbits, practice for more challenging times later. Hatchlings take their first flight, that leap into empty air that works, mostly. I found an empty rooks’ nest in the belfry, and bodged a mesh to stop them raising another brood there, a noisy but dry nest.
In the fields, the heavy heads of grain fill and become golden. Did the rain come early enough to fill the ears well? We’ll find out for the barley at the end of the month, the wheat next month. We test the moisture to see if the grain is dry enough, watch the weather to catch a good spell to be worth bringing the harvester from North Tawton, and long enough to pick up the straw for safe storage for feed and bedding. When we’ve got the weather window, and the crop is ripe, the combine harvester trundles around the field, cutting, threshing the grain clear from the straw and excreting a trail of bright straw. In fine weather, this is the most satisfying time, harvest home. In a wet year, an anxious time, as the year’s work lies at the mercy of storm and tempest.
The grass growth slows down at this time of year as the soil dries, and the grass plants make their bid to set seed. Now is the time to keep the grass short to keep it leafy and nutritious for most of the animals who need rich food. We will store some grass as standing hay, held long in the field and graze it with those animals that need belly-fill, not rich food.
For calves and young heifers, we keep their grass leafy and rich: they need to grow and develop. We have them exploring the further reaches of the farm, and still moved on regularly to keep them on leafy grass. It’s lovely to see them curious, healthy, shiny-coated. They will often stand at the top of the field to catch the wind on a hot day. The breeze cools them and gives the flies more work to bother them.
The autumn herd is dry, having their summer holiday before calving next month. It’s important they don’t get too fat. The calf needs room enough to enter the world easily, and the cow needs to avoid metabolic problems when she makes that dramatic transition from pregnant and dry to calved and milking. They will be on the standing hay, which can look a mess, and is better than harvesting, by machine. Making sure they have the right minerals for the right stage is really important, and will be the first place to look if the cows aren’t looking right.
We’re making cheese now with the milk from the spring herd grazing only the new pastures up on the hill. It will be interesting to see if that pasture will be different. The autumn cows graze an alluvial mix of the red and the clay soils: the spring cows graze those two soils separately. We’ll wait till next year to taste the mature cheese, and the curd in the vat feels just the part. It’s springy and balanced in the hand, no surplus fat on the milk or grainy residue on the side of the vat, which would be evidence of an unbalanced milk. And the finer points of flavour will wait for the first grading at three months and then again at twelve months old.
It’s hot in the cheese dairy to do heavy work and respect to the team for putting the work in to have the cheese be consistently great, whatever the weather. Store work, in the cool, suddenly becomes a lot more attractive.